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Remnants of Chattel Slavery in the Modern US

by B.

Charles S. Aiken, The Cotton Plantation South Since the Civil War, The John Hopkins University Press (1998).

“What is a ‘survival’? What is its theoretical status? Is it essentially social or ‘psychological’? Can it be reduced to the survival of certain economic structures . . . [o]r does it refer as much to other structures, political, ideological structures, etc.: customs, habits, even ‘traditions’ such as the ‘national tradition’ with its specific traits? . . .

“[A] revolution in the structure does not ipso facto modify the existing superstructures and particularly the ideologies at one blow (as it would if the economic was the sole determinant factor), for they have sufficient of their own consistency to survive beyond their immediate life context, even to recreate, to ‘secrete’ substitute conditions of existence temporarily.”
– Louis Althusser, “Contradiction and Overdetermination,” For Marx.

The plantation regions of the South, the former heartland of chattel slavery and sharecropping, remain today among the regions in the US with the highest poverty rates. Extending in a crescent-like shape across the South, coinciding with the core territory of the oppressed Black nation, the plantation regions are characterized by lower incomes, higher unemployment, worse housing, less access to health care, higher infant mortality, underfunded public education, and higher school dropout rates.

This book by Charles S. Aiken, a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Tennesse – Knoxville, contains a lot of valuable information on the historical development of these regions and their current conditions. The book draws upon Aiken’s previous work published in geography journals; in particular, the articles “New Settlement Patterns of Rural Blacks in the American South” and “A New Type of Black Ghetto in the Plantation South.”

Aiken’s main argument is that the plantation, which he defines as: the “large estat[e]” based on the spatial model of the feudal estate, “the large industrial far[m],” “the great farm,” and/or the “[i]ndustrial-type far[m] that specializ[es] in the mass production of a commercial crop,” survives as a key feature of the landscape of the US South.

Aiken examines the development of the plantation from 1865 to 1970, and discusses the situation at the end of the 20th century. He looks in particular at the significance of the survival of the plantation for Black people:

“At the end of the twentieth century, several million of the nation’s blacks still lived in the countryside, small towns, and cities of the plantation regions.”

Aiken’s insight that the Southern plantation, as a landscape feature, survived the fall of chattel slavery is familiar to Marxists who have recognized the US Civil War and the betrayal of Reconstruction as an uncompleted bourgeois-democratic revolution that continues to cast a long shadow over US society to this day.

For example, Lenin, writing in 1915 on US agriculture, noted that the “economic survivals of slavery” (“not in any way distinguishable from those of feudalism”) were “still very powerful” in the former slave-owning South. See V.I. Lenin, “New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in Agriculture.” Lenin wrote that following the emancipation of Black people from chattel slavery, the US ruling class “took good care . . . to restore everything possible, and do everything possible and impossible for the most shameless and despicable oppression [of Black people].” Id. The survivals of chattel slavery included a “complex of legal and social relationships” (reflected, for example, in the vast disparity in literacy rates between Black people and white people), which rested on the “economic basis” of sharecropping. Id.

The “shadow of the plantation” remains today despite the gains of the Civil Rights movement in pushing back de jure segregation. However, what has not been deeply elaborated and understood is how the remnants of the mode of production based on chattel slavery have endured beyond the decline in sharecropping and the mechanization of Southern agriculture by the 1960s. We have for guidance here Lenin’s statement on what happens to an “old landlord economy” that is bound “by thousands of threads to serfdom” during the transition to capitalism, in the absence of revolutionary land reform: “the entire agrarian system of the state becomes capitalist” yet “for a long time retains feudalist features . . . in the main, of landed proprietorship and of the chief supports of the old ‘superstructure.’” See V.I. Lenin, The Development of Capitalism in Russia.

What are the remnants today of chattel slavery in the US economic structure (clearly an articulation of different modes of production)? What are the remnants today of chattel slavery in the US superstructures (legal, political, ideological)? Aiken’s book fills in some of the particularities of the answers to these questions, which remain crucial for the development of political tactics and strategy.

Here is a summary of some of the key points in Aiken’s book regarding the current conditions:

1. The “legacy of the plantation” endures in the economy, politics, and society of the South.

2. The large landholdings of the chattel slavery period remain in tact, as pine forests or as idle land.

3. In the present social and political arrangement of the plantation regions: “Planters, timber companies, factories, and government agencies participate in the control and manipulation of the socioeconomic and political structures.”

4. “[N]ewly elected black officials in the South, like ones in the [‘postcolonial’] Caribbean, often adopt the image of the whites whom they replaced.” Citing John Rozier, Black Boss: Political Revolution in a Georgia County, University of Georgia Press, 1982, 187-96.

5. The economy of the plantation regions is currently characterized by: “low wages, insufficient economic diversification, shortage of local development capital, creation of few new enterprises, and inadequate economic linkages to the growth sectors of the national and international economies.” Furthermore, “[l]arge areas of the regions are capable of attracting job-creation facilities only from the bottom sector of the economy or facilities that have social, environmental, or economic stigma.” These facilities include NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and LULUs (Locally Unpopular Land Uses), such as hazardous waste landfills and incinerators, polluting factories, and federal and state prisons. One of the largest hazardous waste landfills in the eastern US is in the Alabama Black Belt.

6. Industries in the region today include pine forests, commercial farming, and labor-intense low-wage manufacturing (garment, food processing, furniture, chemicals, electrical appliances, pulp and paper mills). The “investment climate” is characterized by anti-union right-to-work laws, a lack of environmental regulations, and regressive taxation.

As Harry Haywood noted in his 1957 essay, “For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question”: “industrial development of the South is distorted and lopsided, ‘geared as it is to the expediency of the absentee owners, rather than to the necessities of the region and its people’. Industrialization is geared toward the extraction of raw materials and natural resources, and primary processing of agricultural products.”

7. Although there has been a great decline in agricultural employment due to mechanization (e.g. in 1990, 2.3% of the Black population in the lower Georgia Piedmont was employed in agriculture, while 32% was employed in manufacturing), the economy has been incapable of fully absorbing displaced farmers and agricultural workers into some other sector, thus exacerbating unemployment and underemployment. In the Alabama Black Belt, “the agricultural economy is largely gone,” but a “new type of local economy that can fully assimilate the underemployed population has not developed.” Even in places where agriculture remains viable, such as the Yazoo Delta where 12% of the Black population is employed in this sector, there exists a large underemployed labor force. Across the plantation regions, transfer payments are the leading source of personal income.

8. As the civil rights movement defeated Jim Crow de jure segregation and Black people gained access to public facilities, private facilities exclusively serving white people (including schools, country clubs, and recreational spaces) grew in importance.

9. Despite winning and exercising the right to vote, Black people have had their voting power diluted by state legislatures engaging in gerrymandering (combining predominantly Black electoral districts with predominantly white districts) and changing the selection process for certain positions (e.g. school superintendents) from election to appointment.

Aiken ends the book by calling for continued federal and state assistance to the plantation regions as a short-term measure and improved public education as the larger solution. Though a significant reform, this would obviously leave the “legacy of the plantation” in tact. As can be expected, Aiken’s liberal prescriptions ultimately fail to point towards the fundamental, needed solution: uprooting the “survivals of slavery” in all their forms, in the structure and the superstructures.

This task must be taken up by the historic bloc led by the international proletariat, but it cannot do this without deeper study and elaboration of the complexity and particularity of the US social formation. The US is not simply a “capitalist” or “capitalist-imperialist” society. It is a unique social formation: a settler-colonial society and a slave society, where the capitalist mode of production became dominant. If we look hard enough through a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions, and shed the idealist notion of a “pure” contradiction between Capital and Labor abstracted from social reality, we find within this late empire a tangle of contradictions and the “intense overdetermination” of the basic class contradiction in the direction of a rupture.

A final note: all of this exposes the fact that much of the discourse on reparations for slavery, by treating this as a past injustice whose remedy must now include acknowledgment and apology, fails to get to the root of the problem: remnants of the slave mode of production survive into modern times; its economic survivals are articulated to and reinforced by the capitalist mode of production in its imperialist stage; and its corresponding superstructural constituents also persist in law, politics, and ideology. In other words, the US continues today to have certain characteristic features of a slave society. Since sharecropping declined through the “landlord road” (with the characteristic maintenance of the plantation form), rather than the road of revolutionary land reform (“40 acres and a mule”), these features will continue “for a long time” in the absence of fundamental social transformation.


Press Release From Students at NYU

About a dozen NYU students who stayed until the end of the protest were suspended indefinitely and banned from all NYU buildings and facilities — including residence halls. This number includes the five student negotiators who were told that they were going to have a negotiating session with the NYU administration, willingly crossed the barriers, and then were abducted by NYU guards and told that they were suspended and not allowed back into the protest. We’re told that they will have hearings next week, please follow the updates on for follow-up action.

NYU’s Lynne Brown, Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs, sent out an e-mail to all NYU students today trying to undermine our efforts and cast us as violent criminals. Please call her out on her shameful lies, e-mail her directly at .

As stated on, please e-mail the Housing Dept. at and urge those administrators to refrain from denying students involved in the occupation on-campus housing. This repercussion is one discordant with the peaceful protesting of these students.

Finally, please e-mail, phone, fax and otherwise harass the following list of administrators on our behalf!

John Sexton,
Telephone: 212.998.6840
Fax: 212.995.4021

John Beckman, NYU Spokesman
(212) 998-6848

Office of the Provost
Tel: (212) 998-2415
Fax: (212) 995-3190

Office of the Vice President

Solidarity forever!

NYU Live Feed!!!!



Students take NYU

Students take NYU

Who Still Has ‘Cold War Mentality’?

Rice ups the ante for Russians

Rice ups the ante for Russians

As the Russian military slowly pulls out from deep in the interior of Georgia to areas protecting the small breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, they have faced criticism all along of their “Soviet” mentality and Cold War one ups-manship. These criticisms hailed from the White House and most NATO allies.

Today, Condoleezza Rice signs a deal with Polish President Lech Kaczynski to install a Missile Defense shield in Poland. I wonder if the impetus to do so is still the reported possibility of Iranian long range missile attacks? Let’s get real, who really still has cold war mentality?

What about the Maobadi?

[This is a repost for something which I put up on the social networking site Facebook. It was basically a frustrating letter and note to friends within mostly the New York Student Activist scene to begin looking toward Nepal and whats happening there. I repost this up because Mike Ely has posted a brilliant essay, entitled Eyes on the Maobadi: 4 Reasons Nepal’s Revolution Matters, which we will post on this site June 10th, 2008]                              
  Maoist woman musician
I tend to sit at my computer, googling for the news and updates about what is happening in Nepal over the current political struggle between Maoists, their growing coalition, and the other parliamentary parties who are set to try to win as much as possible if not sabotage the process of creating a coalition government under the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a Party who won a great plurality of the historical elections, which surprised the international community. It has been over ten years of People’s War, which saw around 10,000 people lose their lives, over two years of political struggle since which saw the fascist feudal King Gyendera fall from power and beginning of desolution of the Monarchy. There is a real struggle for the path and future of over 25 million people in Nepal, and yet my Google news search results only get the international news from the Hindi Times or Kantipur Online. Unbelievable.

How is it we in this country here nothing of what is happening? How is it there is almost an unspoken silence of the struggles of South Asia? Of course there is a failure here of the media to report, no questioning, we hear nothing of the truth in the struggles of the people in Latin America, in Palestine, etc. We know this as just the Chomksyian unspoken rule of the media, it is general knowledge. This is not what makes me flinch, its the fact that the Left is unquestionably silent on it. We still get more reports on Chipas (a struggle, that for all honesty, has stagnated and is losing its base.), on Tibet and all its Oriental mystique attached, and even on the need to defend China (Party for Socialism and Liberation is promoting a book on the need to defend tarnished “socialism” in China.). There are a few notable exceptions like Revolution in South Asia blog and Learn from Nepal project.

I am astounded of why this is, whats with the silence? First it has to be laid on the feet of the fraternal party of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) for creating an atmosphere of ignorance of whats happening in Nepal, that fraternal Party being the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. It is an absolute shame that you can’t even pick up The Worker #11 [11th issue of the theoretical journal of the Nepali Maobadi] at the nearest Revolution Books near you. It also goes without saying that the very tactics and methodology of the RCP is motive enough for many to be turned off from the Maobadi in Nepal, the Naxalites in India, armed struggle in the Philippines. But it also on the heads of the general Left, for all those who speak of politics of liberation and aren’t acknowledging the most thorough-going and radical Revolutionary Movement in more than two decades.

If you want to get a grasp of the emerging world economy, how can we ignore South Asia? Nepal is a country, that has been a semi-colonial outpost of India. It is a a source of cheap labor for the developing economies in Qatar, the UAE, in the cities of India (remittances are a huge part of the Nepalese economy). Men go into these countries as guest workers, often paid well below the national minimum, others are recruited into the Indian armed forces. There is also an incredible amount of human trafficking of Nepalese women into prostitution in India. It is also a country deep with the contradictions presented in the Global South of developing emerging urban centers, alongside great shantyization of poor communities in the cities or near them. It is coupled with the deep backwardness of rural peasantry with the emerging Industrial agriculture throughout South Asia.

What is more bothersome is that there is from this not even the willingness to postulate what possibly can be a new South Asia. Why isn’t it accessible to us, the fact that India (the largest “democracy”) practices holistically a policy of repression of political revolutionaries [imprisoning and murdering], and puts into policy a Hindi-chauvinistic oppression of the various national minorities that compose the country? Why isn’t it well known that half the states of India have active revolutionary parallel states in rural areas, that national oppression is being fought with national liberation by the various ethnic minorities, that the Naxalite uprising of 1969 hasn’t died, but has intensified. That the Maobadi have united in many areas and are actively fighting the militiarist police state in West Bengal? In Andra Pradesh? In Jarkhand? Whats happening in Bengal? Whats happening in Bhutan? We would be surprised to learn the truth isn’t the typical good-will story development perpetuated by NGOs’.

To not begin even looking at the developments of Nepal shows the utter routine that the “Left” of this country has gotten into, how we are so stuck in our models, or have already set our verdicts. This goes for everyone from the A’s to the C’s.

Com. Azad killed during Battle or Murdered by Police

Printed from
       The Times of India -Breaking news, views. reviews, cricket from across India
Top Maoist, wife killed in ‘encounter’
3 Apr 2008, 0402 hrs IST,TNN

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Top Maosit. Gajerla Saraiah
Gajerla Saraiah
WARANGAL: CPI (Maoist) central committee member Gajerla Saraiah alias Azad and his wife Rama were killed in an “encounter” in the Eturunagaram forests on Wednesday morning. Azad was one of the key members of the party and a proponent of the Maoist “red corridor” concept.

While Warangal district SP V C Sajjanar said the “encounter” followed after a group of six Maoists were spotted in the forest, sources said that a State Intelligence Bureau (SIB) team had picked up Azad from Karnataka on Tuesday and brought him here. But police stuck to the encounter story saying it took place at around 6.30 am in Kanthanpally forest.

Sajjanar said four Naxalites managed to escape while Azad and his wife were killed in the “encounter” that lasted an hour. He said the police special party combing the area chanced upon the Maoists who opened fire on seeing the police team. The police recovered a carbine, one pistol, a revolver and three kitbags from the encounter site.

Azad was allegedly involved in the 1999 killing of eight coverts (police informers) in the Manala forests in Nizamabad district. He carried a reward of Rs 5 lakh on his head and was wanted in 40 offences. Azad, a native of Velishala village in Chityal mandal in the district, has been underground for the past two decades. His elder brother Gajerla Ravi alias Ganesh is also a top Maoist and had participated in the talks with the government in 2004.

The slain Maoist’s son, G Naveen, later approached the court seeking a direction to the police to conduct the post-mortem at MGM Hospital in Warangal. Judge Kishan Rao then ordered the police to shift the body to MGM Hospital and directed them to videograph the entire post-mortem in the presence of a judge.

Assailing the police version, Virasam leader Vara Vara Rao said Azad was picked up from somewhere and killed in cold blood. “They killed him and dumped his body in the Warangal forests,” he said. While balladeer Gadar said that Azad and Rama were killed in Jharkhand and their bodies dumped in the forests in Warangal. Meanwhile, sources said that Ganesh has issued a warning that Maoists would soon retaliate against his brother’s killing.